Saturday, April 01, 2017

The Benedict Option In The Antebellum South

Note: Anon has made some excellent corrections to factual errors in this post in the comments. I don't think they significantly change the point, but it's interesting to see how sources I took to be accurate may well have been in error.

Update to the Note: As I say in the post, it's more complicated than that.

This is the first in a series of posts responding to Rod Dreher's The Benedict Option wherein Rod lays out a plan for remaining faithful to orthodoxy in a culture increasingly hostile to religion.

In order to prevent this from becoming a tl;dr post, let me give my sources here and then go straight into a brief analysis.
The world is a mess and it's tough to cling to Catholic orthodoxy while surrounded by temptations, ignorant attacks and criticism. But then the world has always been such a place. Each time has it's own problems, whether that's sex-crazed progressives trying to force priests to marry people to quadrupeds* or it's Antebellum America where we practiced slavery.

The Church was conflicted on slavery. While for the most part, it was anti-slavery, there were members of the clergy who were not. It was very complicated and didn't fall along simple lines. Almost nothing the modern narrative holds forth about slavery is clearly true. 

For example, in the 1830s, Virginia, who would later house the capital of the Confederacy, missed abolishing slavery by a single vote. Robert E. Lee freed his father's slaves after the Confederates' victory at Fredericksburg while U. S. Grant had three during the war. In fact, after the fall of Richmond, his wife came to visit and brought one of the slaves. That meant that the only slave in Richmond belonged to the victorious Union general.

The Pope was against slavery, but gave solace to Jefferson Davis while he was in prison after the war. Nothing about the topic is simple or clear-cut.

The Pope was sympathetic to Jefferson Davis because he felt, probably rightly so, that despite slavery, the South was more supportive of the Church than the North. Just as Pope Francis had a pleasant visit with President Obama, who eagerly financed the American Auschwitz that is Planned Parenthood, Pius IX took a much longer-term view and, as far as I can tell, tried to focus on areas of agreement rather than pitching a fit over slavery. Had he done so, it's not clear that things would have ended well for the Church, whose mission will always be ongoing rather than immediate.

Part of what makes things messy is that the clergy is always drawn from the populace. That may seem like a ridiculously obvious thing to say, but consider its implications. Those young men and women who took Holy Orders at the time did so with all of the cultural assumptions they brought with them from their families and surrounding society. Some came from slave-owning families, some came from strict abolitionist families.

That's the way things have always been and always will be. We will forever have to deal with imperfect people, imperfect cultures and imperfect and uneven clergy. We may have the Truth, but in every era, there's some part of the culture that will deny and attack the Truth.

At issue is what to do about it. The modern world, where progressives pretty much own the culture and hold simplistic, binary views about sexual social justice** is not different in principle from the Antebellum US where most Democrats held simplistic, binary views on the humanity of blacks. The Church was incompatible then and it's incompatible now. So what?

I'm starting to steal from my next post, so I'll end it with this.

All things considered, since I must live in a world that is not completely in harmony with my faith, I'd much rather live the one where the people attacking me are doing so for sexual freedom than slavery. The culture is indeed hostile to parts of the Church, but we've had worse.

More later.

Blessed Pope Pius IX. I would not have wanted to be in his shoes.
* - Here, I anticipate the next battle in the war. 

** - If you oppose gay marriage, it's because you're a hateful homophobe. This is followed by fingers being stuck in ears and a shouted "LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA!"


Anonymous said...

Grant did not own slaves during the war, he did own a slave for a few years during the late 1850s and chose to free him at a time of financial trouble. His wife did have slaves during the war, but it's unclear whether they were hers or her father's; either way, they were not Grant's to free.

Robert E. Lee didn't free his father's slaves, he freed his father-in-law's slaves, but it was mandated within the old man's will. In fact, Lee could have freed them immediately but waited for the maximum time frame of five years to go by. When a group tried to escape during that time, he had them flogged, including a woman. Southern gentility only went so far.

But what's odd is Pius IX saying slavery is not really immoral in 1866, after the civil war. ": ". . . slavery itself, considered as such in its essential nature, is not at all contrary to the natural and divine law,and there can be several just titles of slavery and these are referred to by approved theologians and commentators of the sacred canons. For the sort of ownership which a slave-owner has over a slave is understood as nothing other than the perpetual right of disposing of the work of a slave for one's own benefit - services which it is right for one human being to provide for another. From this it follows that it is not contrary to the natural and divine law for a slave to be sold, bought, exchanged or donated, provided that in this sale, purchase, exchange or gift, the due conditions are strictly observed which the approved authors likewise describe and explain. Among these conditions the most important ones are that the purchaser should carefully examine whether the slave who is put up for sale has been justly or unjustly deprived of his liberty, and that the vendor should do nothing which might endanger the life, virtue or Catholic faith of the slave who is to be transferred to another's possession."

In comparison, the British had largely abolished slavery in 1833.

K T Cat said...

Thanks for the corrections. I had wondered about one my sources, it seemed to be a bit on the odd side. I need to go correct this myself.

My larger point is still there, that there were very serious moral conflicts that were resolved in the end without the need to hunker down. Such is the way of Mankind, no?

K T Cat said...

Anon, it's more complicated than that. The slaves may not have belonged to Ulysses Grant, per se, but to his wife. Dig this.

Lee comes off much better than Grant in this aspect.

Anonymous said...

That's what I said; His (Grant's) wife did have slaves during the war, but it's unclear whether they were hers or her father's; either way, they were not Grant's to free.

In the end, Grant freed his one slave voluntarily, Lee freed his as he was required to do by the will. If this is a parable for the war, I think it is fair to say that the North was not morally pure, but overall their position on slavery was much cleaner than the South's.